Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Planting the Seeds for a Manuscript

Spring is the time of renewal and new growth. Time for planting seeds and nurturing them into being. I’m not just talking gardens here – spring it the perfect time to plant all kinds of new seeds in your life!

Perhaps that “seed” you want to plant takes the form of an idea for a new book. The seed could be a character name, a tricky situation, an unusual adventure, or even a full-fledged orchestrated trilogy. It’s still just an idea – a seed – until you get started.

Where to begin?

Just like with planting a garden, you need the right tools and some planning to successfully nurture your book idea and help it grow into a manuscript. The most obvious of a writer’s tools is the computer on which to type your manuscript. But there are other, less obvious tools that an aspiring writer might want to take advantage of.

You might want to sign up for a Writing Class. Here on Cape Cod we are lucky to have a plethora of published authors and writing coaches who teach classes outside of traditional college classrooms. But it doesn't matter where you live - many community education programs offer writing classes for beginners and so do local libraries. Seek and you will find.

What are the benefits of taking a class? The first and most obvious is community. Writing is a lonely business, and it’s helpful to have a support group to both cheer your progress and keep you going over the rough patches as you master the learning curve of a new skill.

A class also has the benefit of a teacher, who can give pointers about basics like dialogue, verb tense, and punctuation. They also offer direction on your story arc and character development, as well as more ephemeral writing aspects like hook, conflict and flow. If you don’t know these words and phrases from the writer’s toolbox, I strongly urge you to consider a class.

Think of “story arc” like a bell curve: you want the action to start at the beginning and rise to a crescendo before resolving itself into your happily-ever-after. The concept of “character development” is whether your main characters grow and change throughout your story, whether you are challenging your character and giving the reader someone worthy of rooting for. Your character needs to hook the reader from the very beginning and make them care about what happens next.

A critique group is another option for writers looking for the community aspect. The group setting offers a safe space among peers to road test ideas on other readers, to figure out if you’re the only one out there who thinks shape-morphing robotic werewolves from Planet Gulag would really make for a blockbuster bestselling novel…or if maybe you need to shift your focus.

Beta readers are another important tool in an aspiring writer’s toolbox. As the author, you are the “Alpha,” or first, reader. The next set of eyes (be it one person or ten people) are the betas. If you read the acknowledgments of any New York Times bestseller, the author always thanks their initial, or beta, readers by name. These are the select few whom you trust to both read your baby and give you honest feedback without breaking your heart (or your will to keep writing.)

Betas play an important role in any author’s life. This is a reader who will read your whole book, start to finish, and tell you where the holes are and what the character flaws are. Someone who will say, “your hero is cute enough, but kind of whiny. Make him rescue a kitten out of a tree and maybe I’ll feel more sympathetic.” (Thanks again for that one, Shawna!) You might open that email and scream, but in the end you know she’s right.

If you go through these steps, your seed of an idea will undoubtedly blossom into a full-fledged manuscript.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Book Review: NORA ROBERTS LAND by Ava Miles #amreading

Nora Roberts Land, the Dare Valley series, book one
By Ava Miles
Published 2013

About the Book:
Journalist Meredith Hale’s ex-husband claimed her Nora Roberts addiction gave her unrealistic expectations about marriage, and she believed him. All dreams of happily ever after—or Nora Roberts Land as her mother calls it—went up in smoke. But when her family asks her to temporarily help their Dare Valley, Colorado newspaper, she decides it’s time to change her life and prove her ex wrong. She’s determined to find her own small-town Nora Roberts hero, prove that true love exists, and publish a story about her quest.

War correspondent Tanner McBride has just returned stateside to work for a major newspaper, and the last thing he expects is blackmail. Yet, before he can even unpack, he’s headed to Colorado. His assignment? Make his boss’s ex-wife fall for him and then break her heart. Her article about discovering love à la Nora might air dirty laundry about her marriage to the media mogul, threatening his senate run. The mogul wants Meredith stopped, and he makes sure Tanner has no choice in the matter.

When the two meet, the sparks between them are undeniable. Meredith, who vowed never to date another journalist, begins to succumb. Could Tanner be her Nora Roberts hero? As they work together to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death, the depth of their feelings unfolds and both realize they’ve kept their secrets for far too long. But before the truth can be revealed, their investigation takes a deadly turn, one that might make Meredith’s personal Nora Roberts Land go up in flames.


Before I get into my review I need to mention something that's kind of an aside, but also an author thing. In this story, the ex-husband plays a significant role throughout. I mention this because when I last queried a story with an ex-husband I was told "romance readers don't go for that sort of thing."
One editor said "exes are like been there done that." So I was curious how this author handled the ex dilemma in a way that would suck in those skeptical readers.

Ava Miles did just that by giving the ex an even Bigger role, as the main antagonist of both the heroine (his ex) and the hero, whom he blackmails.  I guess the moral of the story is, if you're going to have the ex in the story make sure it's a big hate-able role, not just for the ex but for all of us. The author also had the ex make fun of Nora Roberts, disparaging her books as trash and unrealistic, unforgiveable sins in the land of happy endings. So I guess, the answer is Go Big or Go Home. (That seems to be an answer in a lot of my life these days.)

Now on to my review.

Journalist Meredith Hale just survived a nasty divorce, squeezing a decent settlement from her cheating ex. He has political aspirations, and she has potentially career ending dirt on him. With pictures. Money is good, but she'd prefer to have her self esteem back and intact. He actually told her he had to cheat because she drove him to it. I mean, ugh. He blamed her love of romance novels for the failure of the marriage, saying they set unrealistic expectations for love and HEAs

The author paints a nasty portrait of a slimy ex-husband, and at first I thought the heroine, Meredith, might be a little too broken and self-pitying for my  taste. When she agrees to move home for a few months to help with the family newspaper business, some of her backbone returns, glimmers of the woman she was and will be again shine through, getting the reader to root for her. She's determined to prove her ex wrong by finding true love, just like in a Nora Roberts novel.

Tanner McBride is a hard nosed war reporter, who's seen enough loss of life to last him awhile. He thinks he's landed his dream job stateside, but at the interview he finds out the guy will blackmail him with dirt on his younger brother unless Tanner helps ruin a story the guy's ex-wife is writing, something about life being like a romance novel. His mission is to make her fall in love with him before breaking her heart and crushing her story.

Tanner moves out to Dare Valley, Colorado to find Meredith, but she's nothing like what he expected, and neither is the small friendly town. Will he be able to go through with the deal he struck or will he really fall in love? Another mystery is thrown into the plot mix as Meredith and Tanner team up to investigate some bad drug dealers, putting lives and loves in jeopardy.

This was a well written, absorbing tale that kept me intrigued. I admit that the "mysterious" happenings weren't hard to figure out, but that wasn't the real point. The characters were so nicely written, and their arcs fully satisfying. All the references to various Nora Roberts novels and characters were hysterical, both the conversations between Meredith and her sister and the inner neurotic monologues Meredith carried on with her alter-ego, Divorcee Woman. Fun to read, glad it's a series, and might have to find the next one soon.

P.S. At the time I wrote this review, the Kindle version was still on sale for free. Grab a copy today!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Feature: Excerpt from SARIFICED by Courney Farrell, #new #YA #dystopian #amreading

About the Book:
At the Institute, they breed the best and kill the rest. Sixteen-year-old Michelle is a survivor, but she’s a pawn in their game. A remote arctic military base mysteriously goes silent. The Institute’s founder needles his old enemy, the colonel, by sending teenagers to help. Michelle’s half-breed boyfriend Dillon makes the team, along with her hot ex, who won’t give her up. At the base, Norms attack. The rebels capture Michelle, but they’re not the brutal savages she imagined. Their cause is a just one. Will she take up arms against her own kind?
Meanwhile, Dillon faces his own temptations. As a half-breed, he’d never succeed at Headquarters, but military doctors think he’s special. The colonel offers him a sweet deal, with money, status, and beautiful girls. All Dillon has to do is wipe out the Norms who are harboring Michelle.
 Grab your copy on AMAZON


Don’t screw this up, Michelle told herself. Get so much as a scratch, and they’ll never let you outside Institute walls again. Her backpack leaned on the wall, ready to go, if Dillon would ever show up. She checked the time and flopped back on her bed with a groan.
Heavy footsteps bounded up the stairs. Michelle sat up, her blue eyes narrowed. “About time, Dillon. You’re thirty minutes
Brian walked through the door instead, flashing a grin that rocked her world. “He’s late? Might as well get used to it. Norms are never on time.”
Brian hasn’t been here since . . . that night . . . before I met Dillon. He looks so different. Despite Institute regulations, he hadn’t cut his hair since his exile in the Warren. Loose blond locks brushed his broad shoulders. Between his scores and his mother’s rank, he got away with a lot.
Michelle tried to stop staring and say something coherent. “So, you came to say goodbye? I’ll only be gone a week.”
Brian smirked. “What, and waste these brand-new camping clothes?”
Michelle’s stomach did a flip. “Are you saying they’re sending you? With me…and Dillon? Isn’t that going to be…”
“Awkward?” Brian’s smirk grew into a huge grin. “Oh, yeah.”
Michelle felt like all the air had rushed out of the room. “How could they do that to us?”
 “Apparently your mother isn’t comfortable sending you off alone with your Norm boyfriend.”
 “Half Norm,” Michelle corrected, making a sour face at her disturbingly hot ex.
 “I’m not judging you. It’s just kind of sudden, that’s all. And I thought…you know… you and me, we were just getting started.” Brian sat down on the bed, surprising Michelle with a kiss on the mouth that sent tingles through her lower belly.
“Mmm. Don’t do that.”
“Hey, relax.” Brian gently turned her chin toward him, cupping her cheek in his hand. His brown eyes held her gaze. “I’m not mad. Go have your fun. Come on back when it’s over.”
“That’s awfully Enhanced of you, Brian,” Michelle whispered. “And I mean that. Look, I…I’m sorry my mother dumped this job on you. This is going to be weird for us both.”
“Only if we let it.”
Brian’s fingers traced lightly over Michelle’s hair. Without really meaning to, she tilted her head into his hand and closed her eyes.
He doesn’t get it. The Enhanced swap partners all the time, but Norms bond for life. I can never break up with Dillon. It would kill him.
Brian leaned in close, letting his lips tickle her ear. “I know, you think you trapped yourself. But those backward rules don’t apply to us. I’d never try and own you like he does. It’s uncivilized."


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Wednesday: A Plethora of Homos

I still have vivid memories from elementary school, where they tried to make learning the intricacies of the English language a “fun” experience. There were usually crayons involved. And sometimes math. Like when you draw pictures of “butter” on the left and “fly” on the right with a big plus sign in between them? What does it equal?

Butterfly! Ah, the beauty of compound words. Or, the beauty of a stick of butter that suddenly sprouts colorful wings, depending on the student’s sense of humor.

By fourth grade, the teachers tried to explain about homonyms, homophones, and homographs. Also with drawings, trying to show how words that sound alike can mean different things. Sometimes these words are spelled the same way, sometimes they’re spelled differently.

(No wonder English is such a tricky language to learn!)

So what’s the difference between all these homo words? And why should you care, now that you’re out of grammar school? (Hmmm, and why do they call it “grammar” school?)

Keep in mind, the Latin root “Homo” means “Same.” It’s what these terms have in common – they’re talking about words that have something that’s the same. They are confusing terms because they also mean something is different – meanings, spellings, and even pronunciation.

1. Homonyms are words that sound the same, are spelled the same but mean different things.

Think of it as a sort of math equation: Homo = same + nym = word.

Bear arms; but don’t arm a bear.
Spring into action in Spring, my favorite season.

2. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.

Think of it this way: Homo = same + phone = sound

A bear without fur would be bare.
The plumber ducked under the pipe to grab his duct tape.

3. Homographs are different. And tricky, especially for non-native English speakers. These are words that are spelled the same way but are pronounced differently and have different meanings.

Again, with the math equation: Homo = same + graph = write

Say the following examples out loud, and see what I mean. The words look the same on the page, but when you know the meaning, you know they are pronounced differently.

Tear a paper –or- cry tears of joy (the first “ea” is pronounced like “a” the second sounds like “e”)
Lead a parade –or- a ton of lead weight (the first is pronounced “leed” the second “led”)

But it’s not just the “ea” vowels that can be tricky. Sometimes a single vowel can change sound, too… like in “bass.” (Bass guitar, bass fisherman) It’s a homograph. Same spelling, different word entirely.

Cool trivia facts, Ms. Editor. But why do I care?

Well, Dear Reader, you should pay attention because homophone misuse accounts for MOST OF THE COMMON WRITING MISTAKES OUT THERE. Using a word that sounds like the one you’re looking for… but means something else entirely. This all-too-common mistake plagues every type of writing, from novels to text books to student essays to that report you were supposed to have on the boss’s desk ten minutes ago.

(If I had a quarter for every time I’ve seen affect/effect misused, I’d be a millionaire!)

The computer won’t catch these mistakes. Spell check is useless in the case of homophones, homonyms, or homographs (although, remember, only homophones are actually spelled differently anyway! So with the other two, you’re good to go with just a spell check!)

If you’re unclear about which word you mean to use, look it up. And don’t think your editor is mean when she corrects you.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Book Review: STIRRING UP THE VISCOUNT by Marin McGinnis, #TWRP

Stirring Up the Viscount, by Marin McGinnis
Published January 2015, The Wild Rose Press

About the Book (from Goodreads):
Seeking to escape an abusive husband, Theodora Ravensdale answers an ad in The Times for a job as cook in a country home. A fortuitous house fire enables her to fake her own death and flee to northern England and live under an assumed name. But Theodora’s refuge is not all she would wish, when she stirs emotions in the heir to the estate, Jonathan Tenwick, and in herself.

Meanwhile, as the connection between Theodora and Jonathan grows, her husband learns she did not perish in the fire, and searches for her. Fearing he is close to finding her, Theodora must flee again to protect the family and the viscount for whom she cares deeply. In the final confrontation with her husband, Theodora learns she is stronger than she ever knew, and love is worth fighting for.​

This is a fun historical romance filled with heart, intrigue and a dash of humor. I read it quickly and enjoyed every minute of it. Marin McGinnis has obviously done her homework on the time period, and the kitchen scenes were fascinating for the historical information, while the sexual tension between the two main characters kept me wanting more and rooting for that HEA for the heroine.

Theodora Ravensdale is desperate. The daughter of a successful shipping magnate and baron, her marriage to the volatile barrister Lucien Ravensdale is abusive and loveless. The portrait the author paints of the husbands cruelty is stark, but in keeping with historical norms, since married women had no rights and were considered property of their husbands.

She comes up with a plan for escape, creating a new identity for herself. She secures a position as a cook in a country home, and takes advantage of a kitchen fire to fake her own death and travel to Durham.

Jonathan Tenwick, Viscount Caxton of Longley Hall, is suspicious of the new cook from the moment she arrives at the manor. "Mrs. Milsom" looks too thin - and far too delicate - to have worked as a cook, but Theodora's talent in the kitchen soon wins the family over. The Viscount is intrigued by her, finding himself drawn to the beautiful woman who shies away from his bold advances. He decides to take a more gentle approach, and as the weeks pass, the two develop a friendship and feelings for one another.

It turns out the house fire didn't kill the husband, who searches for his missing wife. The story switches between points of view, showing us Lucien's search as well as the budding new relationship from both Jonathan and Theodora's viewpoints. The tension grows as the search narrows and the relationship heats up, until the secrets and lies all unravel around them, leaving everyone exposed.

Well written, well plotted, what's not to love? Thoroughly enjoyable read. 5 out of 5 stars.